Clark County residents had roles in aftermath of Sept. 11

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



In October 2001, Jim Flaherty spent the better part of a week attending four funerals a day in New York City.

For almost a decade, Staff Sgt. Mathew Crowley has been training National Guardsmen for wartime deployments, in addition to serving a year in Afghanistan.

Jere Van Dyk headed into one of the wildest regions on earth, and wound up as a prisoner of the Taliban.

One man set them on three very different paths.

Now, the death of Osama bin Laden is giving people a chance to consider how life changed after 9/11. For some local families, the span of almost 10 years has been marked by the deaths of sons, husbands and fathers in the Middle East and Afghanistan. At least 21 soldiers, Marines or civilian contractors with Clark County ties have been killed in war zones since 2003.

Many other families have been represented by loved ones in uniform.

Family strain

“Deployments in general put a great strain on individual soldiers,” said Crowley, a training noncommissioned officer based at Kliever Armory in Portland. “It’s not just physical, but it’s also the well-being of their families. There is a lot of pressure on moms, taking care of the kids” while their husbands are overseas.

And sometime it’s mom who is serving in Afghanistan.

“We have quite a few females we deploy with, and they have to take care of a lot of issues,” said Crowley, a 19-year service veteran who lives in Vancouver.

Honoring the fallen

Flaherty, former firefighter and spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department, recalled how the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by bin Laden figured in his life.

“I went back in October 2001 to attend funerals,” said Flaherty. “I took personal leave, and I spent five days in a Staten Island hotel. So many of the firefighters and police officers were working the site, and there weren’t a lot of people to attend the funerals of uniformed personnel. I wanted to be there and be supportive.

“I was going to about four funerals a day. I would map them out the night before, and take a cab from one funeral to the next one,” Flaherty said.

Writer’s perspective

Van Dyk, a 1964 graduate of Hudson’s Bay High School, built up a network of contacts in Afghanistan over 30 years as a journalist. A few years ago, he decided to use those links to gain entry to tribal areas where bin Laden was reportedly hiding.

It turned out that bin Laden’s refuge in Abbottabad — a city named for British officer James Abbott — was a far cry from a mountain cave along the border. And Van Dyk wasn’t all that surprised.

“Not one al-Qaida member has been taken along the border. They’ve all been taken in cities in Pakistan,” Van Dyk said Monday by phone from New York City.

That gulf between rumor and reality reflects a sketchy relationship between the U.S. and Pakistani leadership, including its ISI intelligence agency.

“I don’t think either (Bush or Obama) administration has been straight with us. You read between the lines, and CIA officials will tell you, ‘It’s complicated.’ We have not been told what exactly has been going on.”

Van Dyk gained another perspective in 2008, an experience he recounted in the book “Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban.”

Conversations with his captors included the possible whereabouts of bin Laden.

“The people who had me said he was being kept by an institution in a military base in Pakistan.” By institution, “I think they meant ISI,” Van Dyk said.

“I have worked in Abbottabad,” said Van Dyk, now a CBS journalist. “There are two major military installations there. How could he hide without anybody knowing it?”

Wherever you live, the neighbors are nosy, Van Dyk said, and that includes bin Laden’s neighbors: “Somebody knew.”


His death is likely to result in some sort of a response, Van Dyk said. He said that based on what CBS translators have been reading on jihadi websites, “They’re going to lash out. I don’t think it will be in the U.S. I think the danger would be for American interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

He also sees bin Laden’s death as “a morale-booster for the U.S. Army and the Marines. And it could draw fence-sitters in Afghanistan to our side,” he said, as a message that the United States is a country that accomplishes what it sets out to do.

And Flaherty, who attended 20 or so funerals in the days following 9/11, said that bin Laden set in motion the events that resulted in the weekend raid.

“This fellow made the decision to pursue what he did, the way he did. The way he chose to do it, he was going to get that outcome, whether he was taken alive or not,” Flaherty said. “The end result, he got what he had coming.”